James R. Barrett, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign | Newberry

James R. Barrett, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

Friday, September 23, 2016


Center for American History and Culture Programs
Labor History Seminar

Blue-Collar Cosmopolitans: Toward a History of Working-Class Sophistication in the Industrial Era

Many working-class people with broad perspectives and travel experience were “cosmopolitans”. Long before current notions of “globalization,” such workers linked their local communities with the broader world. Immigrants lived transnational lives, navigating diverse societies and employing numerous languages while contributing to families and nationalist movements in their home countries. Sailors were not only more widely-traveled, but often better-read than middle class people. Maritime workers often provided vital links for transnational social and political movements. Pullman Porters spread Black freedom movement literature and ideas, connecting activists as they traveled. The socialist machinist’s or garment worker’s lives may have been circumscribed by the factory walls and city neighborhood, but as socialists, their worldviews, political goals, and strategies were inherently transnational. Ethnic working-class cultures were worlds not only of politics and work, but also of music, theatre, and literature. Placing such experiences in relation to our understandings of the “cosmopolitan”, we not only illuminate the former but also broaden our notions of the latter.

Respondents: Jack Metzgar and Peter Cole, Western Illinois University

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.